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HE-BCI major review: our focus for significant improvements against burden

Since announcing the six priority areas of the HE-BCI major review earlier this summer, we have continued to explore the UK policy and benchmarking requirements the HE-BCI data collection supports. 

Most recently our work has focused on the development of three priority areas: 

  • In-kind contributions.
  • Geographic granularity.
  • Social and community interactions – public engagement.

We have highlighted these areas because we can achieve significant improvements efficiently with comparably low associated burden to both providers and HESA. 

Our work has been closely aligned with ongoing review work external to HESA, for example of the Higher Education Innovation Fund in England and the Research Wales Innovation Fund in Wales. This alignment will support the continued use of HE-BCI data in central funding allocations and provides scope for future inclusions of further measures of impact.

Geographic granularity

This was identified by HESA as a requirement to support policies aimed at local and regional regeneration and development. Knowing where these existing strengths are located would facilitate improvements to the direction of funding, foster intra-regional collaborations, and strengthen the impacts of research.

We have worked to ensure measurements of geography are aligned with those used in other data outputs external to the HE-BCI data collection, for example by the Office for National Statistics. 

Social and cultural interactions – public engagement

Social and cultural impacts are becoming increasingly significant indicators of a healthy innovation ecosystem.

Previous engagement with statutory customers and sector representatives highlighted the current limitations in the use of social, community and cultural engagement activities captured in Table 5 of the HE-BCI data record. Strengthening data collection in this area will not only benefit the validity and consistency in the data returned but may also help support identification of future targeted policy to support a valued element of the knowledge exchange ecosystem.

Our work has included engagement with members from the National Centre for Academic and Cultural Exchange, Universities UK, Independent HE and GuildHE. Consulting with these groups has helped us develop a broader understanding of the types of public engagement that facilitate knowledge exchange and has informed our interpretations of how their value can be measured. This includes emphasising commitments to local priorities, an increased prevalence of online-only engagements and strategic partnerships with third-sector organisations.

HE-BCI data is ‘the main vehicle for measuring the volume and direction of interactions between UK providers and business and the wider community’

In-kind contributions

HE-BCI data is ‘the main vehicle for measuring the volume and direction of interactions between UK providers and business and the wider community’, so in cases where the volume cannot be measured adequately, we have incomplete information. Finance is only one form of contribution that a partner may make to collaborative research. Access to personnel, facilities, and intellectual property, are just some examples of the valuable non-financial contributions collaborators may make. Although the HE-BCI return currently makes provision for the return of in-kind contributions, users have raised questions about the reliability and consistency of the data captured. 

To address these challenges, we have worked alongside colleagues at UKRI to deliver an interactive workshop to explore the ways in which improved in-kind data could be incorporated into existing funding stream allocations. This included: 

  • Considering the definitions and types of contributions. 
  • Methods for collecting and recording contributions. 
  • Levels of accountability needed to be submitted in the HE-BCI data collection. 

Representatives from organisations provided a wealth of feedback and drew our attention to the need for a definition that emphasises the value, or benefit transfer, of reported contributions. Additionally, they commented on the need for guidance on identifying contribution types that is supportive but not prescriptive. 

Next steps

We will continue to engage with sector representatives and explore the ways we can improve measures of commercialisation, the equality and diversity of agents of knowledge exchange, and the coverage of students and staff across the record. We will present HESA’s understanding of policy priorities across each of these areas to the project board. The feedback gathered from board members will help direct us in drafting the first iteration of amendments to the collection.

We will share further updates in the coming months, launching a collection-wide consultation in October 2022. 

Alongside this we will continue to collaborate with organisations including co-hosting a review workshop with Universities UK and interactive feedback sessions with Independent HE. Further details of these events will be coming soon.

Please sign up to the HESA weekly update to receive updates on how you can get involved.

Hannah Browne

Hannah Browne

Lead Policy and Research Analyst